O'er All the Weary World
Glorfindel and the Wandering Company during the Harsh Winter.
O’er All The Weary World
Still thro’ the cloven skies they came,
With peaceful wings unfurl’d.
And still their heavn’ly music floats
O’er all the weary world.
-Edmond H. Sears, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
The Road to Imladris, Winter 2758-9 of the Third Age.
“This winter is fit for neither beast, man, or elf,” Gildor muttered. He pulled his fur-lined cloak tighter around his body and huffed out an annoyed breath. “When an elf feels discomfort in the cold you know someone has angered the Valar.”
“Weakling,” Glorfindel said, his face morphing into a smirk. “You have spent far too long in warmer climes.”
Gildor threw a hand of powdery snow at Glorfindel’s head. “Do not toy with me, Elda, not all of us lived in city surrounded by mountains. Even you must admit this winter is harsh by anyone’s terms.”
Glorfindel passed a look back to his horse, laden down with medical supplies to fight the death and famine that seemed to be sweeping over Eriador. Elrond had sent him out two months ago with supplies, making messengers ride out to meet him with more supplies, but even Gildor and his Wandering Company were making little headway in the face of winter’s wrath.
“Perhaps you have a point,” he conceded. “I cannot recall the last time winter was so bad, nor the deaths so many. Elrond fears it will be a bloodbath by the time Spring comes. He says reports from the paths near Rohan recount death tolls as high as Eriador.”
“Mithrandir is guarding the periannath’s settlement. I am certain he is using some of this talent to ensure they have crops and cattle to survive the season. Does he know much about the art of healing?”
“There are some of the Dunedain who carry more knowledge of the art than him, but he knows well how to handle frostbites and kisses of ice,” Glorfindel said, eyes scanning the haze of swirling snow. It was snowing sideways, wind pushing up elvish tents that had stayed still during the worst of rain storms. “There is something unnatural about this, I fear.”
“Yet you still are out here, marching with us through the snow to bring what we can to all the villagers.” Gildor reached out a hand and dusted snow off his shoulders. “I swear you do not know how to live a peaceful and quiet life. You are not content unless you have a direct line to the front.”
“Once a Captain, always a captain,” Glorfindel muttered.
He did not know why he traveled with Gildor’s company, outside of the fact that even he needed their knowledge of the best paths to deliver the medicine and poultices. The Wandering Company brought their own form of healing. No potions and salves, since they did need to keep their own reserves, but they did bring song, dance and stories. Wares to sell and an air of mystery which made people forget their troubles, even in a winter as bleak as this one. The curative magic of laughter and fantasy could not be measured in little bottles of tonic and tins of ointment, parcels of bandages and warm skins of water.
Gildor stood silent in the night, studying the language of the stars in a way Glorfindel was never able to understand or learn. He looked almost mythical like this, his dark hair stark against the white-covered land around them, the deadened sounds of the night passing over and around the snow.
“We should be in Imladris within a fortnight,” Gildor said. “We have one last village to stop at before our next long engagement at the Hall of Fire.”
“One day you will tell me how you manage to do that,” Glorfindel said.
“It is a family trait, I fear, meant only for those of us destined to wander,” Gildor said, his voice dropping to a whisper.
Gildor had wandered Arda for time untold, ever since the sacking and burning of his village in the First Age. As he once told Glorfindel, what does one do when their home is gone? Forge new foundations, or keep wandering the world until you were called to Aman. When your home was destroyed by your supposed kin, it was not easy to settle among other elves without fear and suspicion burrowing deep, so Gildor appointed himself as one who would travel, and lead those with restless and wandering hearts. He still walked the world, even though his wife, children, siblings, all had taken the final journey Westward. He was not fool enough to tell Gildor to leave his post, despite seeing the strain it sometimes placed on him. They both knew how strong a tie of duty felt, especially when it was appointed by the Valar.
“When we get to Aman, remind me to thank your family, for that family trait might be what save us all one day,” Glorfindel said. “I do not think we shall find an easy rest this night. If I may be so bold as to suggest it, I think it is time we struggled on.”
Gildor nodded. “There will be no rest to find tonight, not in this weather, and we are needed elsewhere.” He started to clap and call to his people, gathering them all for a march through the night.
The village they stopped in was not as well-off as those closer to Imladris, nor did it hold the signs of abandonment in the northern settlements. Glorfindel remembered passing through it once in the Second Age when elves and dwarves were the primary denizens behind the walls. An old crumbled stone arch was one of the few remnants of the glory of old. There was a base of a statue where the center of the old village was marked, an old forge now a stable, an even older place of worship now an armory.
It was the type of village Gildor preferred to bring the Wandering Company through, not so far gone their performances would be an insult and not too well off that the citizens would feel themselves above the entertainment of folk songs and dance. A well kept inn served as their council meeting hall and prime venue of entertainment, a good shelter from the harsh breezes outside. It was cramped in here, difficult even for an elf to move with grace, but there was a tangible sense of joy in the crowd which was more of a reward than any pittance of money the village could pay.
The Elder of the Village sat in a high-backed wooden chair, suspicious eyes watching their movements, perhaps believing one of the many myths about elves, as if they were more meddlesome fairies than stoic beings. Glorfindel was well-acquainted with elven mischief, he’d been there for Elladan and Elrohir’s youth after all, but he never quite understood how they garnered the reputations as pick-pocketing tricksters.
The Wandering Company’s performances weren’t for cynical adults but for the young children of all races of Middle Earth who still believed in the immaterial. Glorfindel came loaded down with bandages and tins of healing herbs and lotions to soothe their wounds, but Gildor’s people came with hints of magic, teasing notes of music, and proof that outside the run down village borders, there were some things more pleasing than dangerous.
The elves of the Wandering Company were working their magic around the main room, gathering groups into corners and weaving tales. One of the minstrels held an audience by the fire, using his special talents to make shapes appear in the flames while he sang an epic of a young country boy’s first journey into the Wild. A table near the back was the place of barter, as the elves traded their gathered goods from Arda with the village’s people for food and canvas, supplies for the horses and tools for repairs.
Glorfindel paced the room, eyes sweeping in every direction to quiet any possible ruckus, before making his way to Gildor’s side. He wasn’t here to guard anyone, and Gildor needed no such protection, but too many lifetimes of service kept Glorfindel in the habit of watching noble elves. Not to mention the fact Erestor would never let him forget it, if Gildor ever came under harm with Glorfindel present.
Gildor sat in his own high-backed chair, his nature turning the worn wood into a throne, welcoming each new child who came up to him with a warm smile and a small present. It was a tradition Gildor performed in each village, no matter the season or reason for passing through, a remnant of long-forgotten hospitality laws of giving gifts to those who give you shelter.
A young mortal girl, braids loose, skirt threadbare and patched, approached Gildor. There was little fear in her face, more a curiosity as if she did not quite believe the stories told by her Elders but still did not know what to make of the elf before her. Glorfindel placed a discrete hand over his face to hide his smile, easily reminded of more than a few young she-elves in Imladris.
Gildor smiled at her, holding his hands out in the way most tried to calm a scared animal. “Do you have a question?” he asked her.
She passed an appraising look over Gildor and nodded, shuffling forward. Glorfindel noticed her cheeks were slightly flushed, though the rest of her color was pale. It wasn’t embarrassment, but the lingering effects of that illness which seemed to be taking down so many this winter. He doubted her family had the money to pay a good healer or have access to the best food and water. Glorfindel felt in his cape for one of the smaller healing packets to give her family.
“Why do you wander?” she finally asked from her place at Gildor’s feet.
Gildor patted her head, placing a small silver bell in her hand. “The question, my dear, is why does everyone else stand still?”
The child smiled at him in confusion, but nodded in acceptance, before thanking him for the bell and running back to her mother. Glorfindel approached the mother, handing over the small packet of herbs with a smile.
“From Lord Elrond of Rivendell,” he said in his best ambassador voice. Elrond’s name always garnered trust in this part of Arda, all knowing of the wise and benevolent healer who ran the sanctuary in the river valley.
The mother accepted the packet with an astonished nod, pushing her daughter toward the exit. The little girl turned around, waving at Glorfindel. He waved back and winked at her before making his way back to Gildor’ side.
“The family may make her sell that bell for money,” Glorfindel said.
“And if that was your chief concern than you wouldn’t be pulling bells off your own bridle and handing them to all the small children,” Gildor said, his eyes tracking the movement of his people.
“I am not the one proposing debates on existence and life choices with small children,” he said.
“You did, however, get into very intense discussions with elflings over the power of glory and the idea of myth versus truth,” Gildor said. “Children are magical in their ability to take things as they are, without questioning your motives or looking for a solution that best suits them. They still believe in the unknown, they still see beyond in a way they forget as they grow older.” He pressed back into the chair.“They fascinate me in that way.”
“I’ve always found them to be sources of joy and amusement for a time,” he said. He leaned against the wall next to Gildor’s. “The night seems to be going well.”
“They have had so little to celebrate this past season,” Gildor answered. “It is a long winter yet to come. The distraction of our songs and tales will take away some of their cares tonight. All who listen shall have sweet dreams and peaceful sleep this night.” He lifted a tankard of ale from the table beside his chair and took a sip.
“You and Lindir should discuss the healing power of music,” Glorfindel. said.
“Or rather, the differences between playing in a royal hall and playing in an inn’s common room. Different audience, different songs, music and motivations.” Gildor put down his tankard. “Everyone here already thinks us something mystical and magical and expects our songs to have some sort of power over them. While we can push a little, the only reason any of it works is because they want it to heal them. So much of this is self-healing in ways few audiences ever realize,” he continued.
“And is that why you wander?” Glorfindel asked, already knowing the answer Gildor would give. It was their own tradition, to hold this conversation at least once each time they met.
Gildor laughed, the sound drawing the attention of many people, all wide-eyed from the power of elvish laughter. “You know as well as I, Glorfindel,” he said in the dialect once spoken in Gondolin, “not all those who wander are lost.”
The path to Imladris revealed itself in the whisper of magic that always made Glorfindel pause and appreciate all the river valley gave them. Snow glistened on the surface, a light dusting compared to what fell elsewhere in the last storm. Even some of the Wandering Company were more than ready to spend a few nights in a bed under a ceiling of plaster rather than stars.
Music rose from the valley, the river, the wind, and the elves busy at work and tending to all the travelers who sought sanctuary on winter nights such as this, their voices guiding the strangers down the path to the Last Homely House.
“I see Lindir has gotten creative with the verses, again,” Gildor said, his breath misting under the moonlight in the night air. “I did not know there was a whole song dedicated to the Wandering Company.”
“He lost a bet with Elrond,” Glorfindel said. He guided his horse down the steep road, ignoring Gildor’s smirk at the bell-less bridle.
A sweet tinkling echoed through the night, the bells marking the hour of the night.
“Are you glad to be home?” Gildor asked.
“It is only a short return,” he admitted, “I will have to set up whole new patrols to get out the healing supplies. Our own village is in desperate need of more meat stocks and from the many dead we passed on the way here, I will need to put sentries in our unoccupied guard posts. Still, it is good to take a moment and rest from the road.”
“Warmth, music, food and song. Home and its own healing properties, no matter which road you wander or where you call it,” Gildor said.
“Home is what you make it,” Glorfindel agreed. He reached his free arm around Gildor’s shoulder and pulled him close, laughing as he stumbled. “And one person can have many homes.”
“With all the bothersome parts of it as well,” Gildor grumbled, sending a glare back to those laughing behind him.
Glorfindel shook his own head and laughed, smiling into the light coming from his home.